Important Tips for the IEP Process

This post comes courtesy of Marilyn Bartlett, PhD, JD, who was initially denied accommodations for the bar exam, filed a landmark lawsuit, Marilyn Bartlett v. NY State Bar, Board of Law Examiners, for reasonable accommodations and won!  Dr. Bartlett is a professor of education law, a member of the Wrightslaw team, and an advocate for dyslexia.

the law 4Hi all, I have a few recommendations. Many of the questions being raised can be answered if you purchase two books. I highly recommend reading from Wrightslaw: “Special Ed Law, 2nd ed.; “From Emotions to Advocacy; All About Testing and Assessments; and All About the IEP. You should also carry these books to every meeting you attend! That way, when the school personnel tell you something isn’t possible, if you know you can’t put your finger on the right page (most people tab the entire book so laws and issues are easy to find), slide the book across the table and ask them to show you where such and such is written in the law. In addition, you should go to your school district web page and download the School Board policy pertaining to special education issues- put this in a binder along with your state’s statutes pertaining to special education. Keep yourself armed with the law. AND if you make a notebook such as that which is suggested in “From Emotions to Advocacy,” then you’ll have your child’s papers at your fingertips.

If your state does not require a meeting to discuss what tests are needed, you can insist on a meeting for this purpose. It is at this meeting that you will sign the necessary permission forms. At this meeting, if the “chairperson” does not do it, YOU take over and go to the board and record everyone’s opinions of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses will point directly to which tests need to be given to your child. For example, if two or three people agree that in their classes your child never knows what homework is to be done and comes to class with the wrong pages, etc., ask if the homework is assigned by writing on the board, if yes, there may be visual perception problem(s); if the homework is given orally, then it could be auditory perception problem(s). Does this make sense? If the directions are given orally and the teacher says, “do questions 3, 6, 7, 9, and 11 and your child does 9 and 11, again, this would suggest an auditory perception problem. Once the “strengths” and “weaknesses” are listed, it is very difficult for the school personnel to wiggle away from the problems your child manifests in class!!

Do not try to become an expert on all tests for specific problems – know them generally. When the school personnel perform the tests, they have an arsenal of tests already purchased – more often than not, they have enough to chose from and you want them to use the tests they know how to give/score. When the personnel say they want to use a specific test, ask them for what purpose the test is given, how it was determined to be reliable for this purpose and how it was validated for this purpose. Sometimes tests are very reliable but not valid for the purpose you need/want. If you do not agree with the results of the tests the School finds, then ask for an IEE (independent education evaluation). You may not need a FULL evaluation but maybe just in the areas with which you disagree. Try to get all of the tests done within a short but reasonable period of time – if there is too much time between the tests, when you look at the different results you may have the problem of maturation meaning your child has done better in the later tests because of something they learned or they might have just grown up a bit. (In research, we call “maturation” a “threat to validity.” Maturation alone can skew the data.)

Finally, ALWAYS insist upon a WISC intelligence scale so you will know where your child should be performing. BUT you must also insist that the test be scored twice. Once is a FULL SCALE score; the second is to ask that up to TWO of the subtests be removed in the areas of your child’s disability (this will be self evident when you see one or two subtests with very low scores) (oh, again, the one or two subtests that are much lower than the rest of the test point to areas that need further testing using tests validated for those areas. You can only do this with the WISC tests! The recalculated score is a better indication of your child’s true IQ. No other IQ test has been created in such a way that you can take out the subtests and rescore; Only David Wechsler created his tests this way!!

If your child’s IQ is above 122-125 and your child is only doing “B”/”C” work in class – passing and indeed above the average child in class, the school personnel may try to argue that this is good enough! Come back with a soft voice to the entire group, “If your child had a 125 IQ would you be satisfied with C’s and B’s?” Ask the question slowly so the words will sink in; maybe ask it softly a second time. Then put some people on the hot seat and ask them by name! When the issue becomes personal, it’s a different matter.

Lastly, never lose your cool. Pretend you are advocating for someone else’s child! “Never let them see you sweat!”

I hope this is helpful.

If you have an older student, please make sure to read Dr. Bartlett’s Transitioning from high school to post-secondary education: Why transition from the IEP to a 504 plan in the freshman or sophomore year is important!

Notes From Emotions to Advocacy